Finding strength to heal from loss and trauma

Marking the impact of 11 years of conflict on children in Syria

Sandra Awad
15 March 2022

Al-Mleha, Rural Damascus, Syria, February 2022 – “I don’t know what the word ‘home’ means as I can’t remember spending any time in ours,” said 11-year-old Aminah, sitting on a backless chair in a damaged apartment, where her family currently lives.

Prior to the conflict, Aminah’s family owned a big house in Al-Mleha town, in East Ghouta, rural Damascus, Syria. In 2012, as the violence continued, the family escaped and rented a house in Saqba, a safer location. There, her father worked in a bakery with her elder brothers, Izzat and Ibrahim, to earn a living and support people in the community amid the fighting. People brought barley flour from all over the town for Aminah’s father to bake.

“My husband used to give me the bread he made, and I’d distribute it equally to the children,” recalled Aminah’s mother, Razan. “Everyone got a small portion, and they’d eat small bites, trying to kill their hunger,” she added.

Girl standing in front of collapsed building
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Aminah, 11, in her hometown Almleha, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 10 February 2022. The destruction of the conflict can be seen in the background.

One day in 2018, things took a tragic turn. A shell fell on the bakery, the building collapsed, and killed Aminah’s father and eldest brother, and badly injured the other brother.

“It was the worst day of my life. Not only did I lose my husband and son but Aminah also saw her father’s body being pulled out from under the rubble,” said Razan. Life was never the same.

“I don’t know what the word ‘home’ means as I can’t remember spending any time in ours,”

Aminah, 11
Girl standing in front of collapsed building
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Aminah, 11, looking at what is left of her conflict-damaged house in her hometown of Almleha, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 10 February 2022.

After the incident, Razan and her children were displaced multiple times. Later in the year, after violence subsided, they returned to their hometown, Al-Mleha. Their old house was severely damaged. Unable to fix the house or afford to rent it, they had to settle in an empty house a relative opened for them. “This place has no windows or doors; we use blankets and plastic sheets to cover the holes in the walls, but it is hard to fend off the weather. Living here is very tough,” explained Razan.

The tragedy has affected Aminah, her mother and siblings deeply. “For months, Ibrahim hallucinated about the roof falling on his head. Aminah cried daily and she was afraid of staying home alone,” Razan explained. Ibrahim met a psychiatrist at a local NGO to receive help and in 2020, Razan enrolled Aminah to a UNICEF -supported psychosocial support centre to help her cope.

Children enjoying a session in a centre
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Aminah, 11, taking part in a recreational activity at a UNICEF-supported centre, where she attends psychosocial support sessions, in Almleha, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 10 February 2022.

“Every time Aminah faced an issue, she blamed it on her father’s death,” said Areej, the case manager assigned to Aminah’s case at the centre. “We realized that she and her mother needed support,” added Areej, talking about the time when she met them. At the centre, Aminah attended psychosocial support sessions and her mum took part in a parenting skills programme.

“Going to the centre made me realize that I’m not the only one who has suffered. Everyone has problems,” said Aminah. “Ms Areej also taught me how to look at things differently and how important it is to be present rather than to live in painful memories from the past,” she added.

teacher siting next to girl in a centre
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Aminah, 11, practices journaling at a UNICEF-supported centre in Almleha, Rural Damasucs, Syria, on 10 February 2022. These skills will help her to cope with trauma.

“She’s a smart girl! We only gave her the tools to make a good use of her time, discover new hobbies and grow her hidden talent,”

Areej, a case manager

After a couple of months, Aminah also began to take part in recreational activities at the centre. She discovered a talent for singing when she auditioned for the choir. She regularly practiced singing and learned how to journal to cope with her emotions.

“She’s a smart girl! We only gave her the tools to make a good use of her time, discover new hobbies and grow her hidden talent,” Areej said.

“I started learning how to process my feelings and what I’ve been through. It has helped me to imagine my dad smiling at me. I used to cry about losing him, but now, I appreciate the beautiful memories I have of him and try to focus on the positive,” Amina said, with a smile on her face.

Children enjoying a session in a centre
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Aminah, 11, doing handicrafts at a UNICEF-supported centre in Almleha, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 10 February 2022.